Sport Our health and well-being depend, to a large extent, on our body being able to create the necessary proteins and plant foods can provide us with the amino acids we need.
You may have heard that vegetarian and vegan diets do not contain enough protein or that vegetable proteins are not as complete as meat proteins.
Ethere are still many doubts about amino acids and proteins. Actually:
it is our body that “makes” the proteins we need with the amino acids that food provides, and vegetables contain all the essentials.
But to understand why amino acids are so important, you first have to understand What are proteins and what are they for? In fact, the word protein comes from the Greek proteiosthat means “first thing” or “most important thing”.
Proteins are used to form and repair cellular structures: muscles, bones, skin, the different types of tissues that make up organs, etc. In addition, they fulfill other essential functions, such as the production of hormones, immune antibodies and enzymes.
Proteins are also a source of energy in case of deficit of carbohydrates and fats.
Sport What are essential amino acids?
The proteins in our body wear out and must be replenished frequently. To synthesize new proteins, our body needs twenty amino acidsof which eight are essential (nine in children), that is, we need to ingest them with the diet since our body does not synthesize them.
The essential amino acids are:
- histidine (in children)
The body you cannot use the proteins in food as we ingest them: first you have to break them down to isolate the essential amino acids, which will then be recombined in the ribosomes of cells to create our own proteins, following the instructions of our genes.
Sport What vegetables contain essential amino acids?
Many people think that protein is only obtained from foods of animal origin, such as different types of meat and fish or eggs, but the truth is that there are a wide variety of excellent sources of plant protein:
- Legumes like the lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, peanuts, lupins and soybeans (edamame, tofu, tempeh, textured soy). The protein content of dry beans is above 20 percent. Surprise, this ratio equals or exceeds meat and fish and doubles eggs!
- Cereals and pseudocereals, as quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, rye, amaranth, and oats. The percentage of protein in the dry product is around 10-15 percent.
- Seeds as the chia, flax, hemp, sunflower and sesame contain about 15-20 percent.
- He seitan Made with wheat flour, it is 25 percent protein.
- Las vegetables (sprouts, artichokes, onion, garlic, etc.), whose contribution is situated at 2-3 g per 100 g of food. In a balanced diet, we all need to combine a variety of all these foods; thus the necessary amino acids are obtained.
The Harvard ‘trick’
To get the set of amino acids you need, there’s nothing like combining staple foods with some very protein and nutrient-dense supplements.
- Chickpeas: Cooked, they provide 9 g/100 g of protein with all the essential amino acids, along with fibre, carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
- Lupines: They constitute a delicious Mediterranean appetizer with a 16% protein content. They are very dense in vitamins and minerals.
- nutritional yeast: A 10 g tablespoon provides no less than 5 g of protein and high amounts of B vitamins and minerals.
- Quinoa: It is a gluten-free pseudocereal that contains all the essential amino acids and a lot of fiber. Cooked, it contains 4% protein.
- Hemp: A 15g scoop, which you can mash up and add to salads, gives you 5g of protein with all the essential amino acids, fiber and omega-3s.
On the other hand, plant sources of amino acids are also rich in other essential nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, antioxidant compounds and healthy fatty acids.
To combine them in the right amount, we can follow the recommendations based on the so-called harvard platea proposal from Harvard University that can be adapted to vegetarian and vegan diets.
- Vegetables and fruits occupy half of the plate (ideally a variety of different colors, preferably seasonal, local and organic).
- Legumes (at least 100 g), nuts and seeds occupy a quarter of the plate.
- Whole grains (100 g) fill the remaining quarter. Also add extra virgin olive oil, aromatics and spices.
Benefits of essential amino acids of plant origin
- They reduce the risk of colon cancer, thanks to the fiber and antioxidant nutrients.
- They are easier to digest and do not put a strain on the kidneys and liver.
- They reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases. In addition, plant foods rich in amino acids make it easier for the body to build its own proteins, because they also contain fiber and potassium.
- Fiber favors the good state of the intestinal microbiota, and this, that of the intestinal wall, which allows a good assimilation of amino acids and other nutrients necessary for the formation of proteins by the body.
- Potassium acts as a cofactor in several enzymes that facilitate the joining of amino acids to form body proteins.
Instead, foods of animal origin have an excess of sodium and a deficiency of potassium. They are difficult to digest and their metabolization and assimilation creates a lot of waste, such as urea, creatinine and uric acid, which the kidneys have to eliminate by making an overexertion.
In addition, meat is usually consumed fried or barbecued, which adds toxic products such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, and halogenated hydrocarbons. A high consumption of meat products has been associated with an increase in pancreatic, colon and breast cancer, among others, something that does not happen with plant foods.
On the other hand, vegetable proteins produce less impact on the climate and the environment than the consumption of meat and fish, something that must also be taken into account.
Sport Improves protein digestion
- In the same way that meat, fish, and eggs are cooked, legumes and grains must be properly prepared to deactivate antinutrients such as phytates, tannins, saponins, and lectins, which can cause irritation and interfere with nutrient absorption. .
- In the case of legumes, to deactivate these compounds it is necessary to pre-soak them (between 8 and 24 hours) and cook them for at least one hour. This will help digest them better. Do not use the same soaking water to boil or cook them.
- Some nutritionists call for caution with legume flours, especially soy flour, because as used in baked goods, without pre-soaking and briefly cooking, they could retain compounds that would be potentially unhealthy for some people.
Sport The best assimilation of essential amino acids
- Combine your plant-based protein meals with foods rich in vitamin C. This helps increase the absorption of iron from legumes, whole grains, and other plant-based sources.
- Try to include several sources of protein in all intakes. Possible combinations are: lentils with rice, beans with pasta or bread, couscous with chickpeas and vegetables, spaghetti with peas, rice or pasta salad with nuts or other nuts and seeds. You can also combine chickpeas with pistachios or lentil salad with nuts. For breakfast you can have oat flakes with soy, almond, hazelnut or quinoa milk.
- If you need to increase your protein intakeyou can get used to having delicious appetizers based on lupins or edamame.
- If it is a quality product, organic production, without additives or added sugars, you can add vegetable protein powder to your drinks, yogurt or smoothies. It is recommended that the product is a mixture of vegetable proteins that contains soy or peas, brown rice and some type of seed. It can be a good option when you have increased protein needs because, for example, you do sports.
- Tofu and tempeh They are rich in protein with all the essential amino acids, in fiber and in isoflavones with antioxidant and regulating properties of sex hormone levels. In addition, they are very easy and quick products to prepare.
- Combining 100 g of legumes and 100 g of cereals you get 20 to 25 g of protein. Evaluate what you need based on your weight and level of physical activity. A nutritionist can help you do it.